What do you do when you’ve caught the dreaded summer flu and are too ill to get out on the paths? And when the July weather is so appalling that you probably wouldn’t go even if you could? You write a blog post about the hiking gear you would pack if conditions were ideal, of course.
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What to wear, what to wear?
When it comes to clothing for a summer hike, my best advice is to overpack. That’s right. Pack for all eventualities and all conditions. For instance, my recent hike from Minehead to Porlock was a bit of a tick-infested nightmare. Oh, it was glorious, but the path was riddled with the parasites. I wore a long-sleeve running top and full-length leggings tucked into my socks the whole time. It was so hot. It was totally worth it. I have family members who suffer from Lyme Disease (aka borreliosis) caused by tick bites. I am not prepared to take my chances.
However, on the hike from Boscastle to Trebarwith Strand, my friend E and I didn’t see a single tick. It was shorts and t-shirt heaven. So yes, I pack both. Always. That way I am also prepared for sudden changes in the weather, and I have a change of clothing if need be.
- Tops: Opt for breathable fabrics that help regulate body temperature and keep you dry. Make sure they are not black or very dark-coloured. You want to be able to see the hideous creepy-crawlies! My favourite long-sleeve top is from Nike. I have it in heather (pictured above), gray (pictured below) and black (gym use only). My peach-coloured t-shirts (see photos at the top and bottom of this blog post) are from Tesco, I think. They are practically dry when they come out of the washing machine, they are very airy despite the tight weave, and no earthly tick can hide from sight on such a bright fabric. Sadly I can’t find a link to share.
- Shorts/leggings: Lycra is your quick-drying friend! I have a lot of Gymshark clothing, but my favourite hiking leggings are actually from Fittoo. They are even more stretchy, somehow. I have them in pink, purple and blue. My new favourite hiking shorts are from H&M Move, which is quickly becoming my preferred activewear brand. The pocket on the side is so handy, considering I stop to pull out my mobile phone every 10 metres to take a new photo or video. I have them in black, dark green and dark purple – I know, not ideal hiking colours, but I had only ever intended to use them in the gym! I should probably order some new ones, actually…
- Sturdy hiking boots: Invest in comfortable, waterproof boots with good ankle support for the varied terrain. That is the official advice, anyway. And the advice of my very lovely physio Lucy. However, I must admit I always hike in my New Balance 680 trainers. What can I say? They’re the only shoes I’ve found that truly work for my feet. (I currently have three pairs. I have lost count of how many I have worn out.)
- Moisture-wicking socks: Choose socks made from synthetic or wool materials to prevent blisters and keep your feet dry. I swear by my Rockay socks, but they keep shrinking a little in the wash and are now so tight that I am sure they impair my circulation. Lately I have tried some new socks from Danish Endurance. They are a little on the wide side, so I kinda wish they would shrink. No blisters so far though, but I haven’t tried them on a proper day hike yet.
- Lightweight rain jacket: Prepare for unpredictable weather conditions by packing a compact rain jacket. I usually pack a Nike running jacket, and then pack one of those emergency rain ponchos that are aimed at tourists. They are lightweight and waterproof, but they don’t exactly breathe.
PRO TIP: Choose a jacket in a non-natural colour. It can be used to make sure people spot you from far away – or from a helicopter – in case something should go hideously wrong. Better safe than sorry, right?
- Sun hat: I still haven’t found a great one! Sometimes I use a regular cap, other times a sort of … fishing hat? Correction, it is the Tilley T3 Wanderer hat from Go Outdoors. I actually think that one is the best for hikes in the summer heat, as it has a brim all around (it could do with being a little wider, though) and a sort of vent that keeps my head cool. Any and all recommendations for this particularly essential piece of hiking gear will be received with thanks!
- Buff: In case the weather should suddenly change and you want to cover your throat and neck. Or as an alternative to a sun hat, although it doesn’t exactly have brims. Or as an emergency bandage. A buff is a very versatile piece of hiking gear, and weighs very little. Bring the Buff.
- Mosquito head net: Because you don’t want to get eaten alive. And it weighs next to nothing. And it can go either on top of or underneath your sun hat. I have the Smidge Midge head net.
Hiking in the summer usually (hopefully) means sunshine. Hiking by the coast means increased sun exposure. Protecting your skin and eyes is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hike.
- Sunscreen: Apply a high SPF sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin, including your face, neck, and ears. Reapply throughout the day and after a swim. After discovering the Yuka app, I switched to the SVR brand. My new sunscreen is SPF 50+, ocean-friendly and has no harmful ingredients. It comes in spray form, which is easier to apply when you’re out and about. It also comes in a cute little pocket size.
PRO TIP: Wrap a few metres of gaffer tape around the sunscreen bottle. It is super handy in case any of your hiking gear rips or breaks.
- Lip balm with SPF: Keep your lips moisturized and protected from harmful UV rays. I am addicted to the Hurraw lip balms. The vanilla one is my absolute favourite, and the Moon Balm is great before bedtime, but this is the one with SPF protection.
PRO TIP: Wrap some plaster tape around the tube. Not having to bring a whole roll saves you a few grams of weight.
- UV-blocking sunglasses: Choose sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection to safeguard your eyes from the sun’s glare. This is essential hiking gear, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. My sunglasses were £2 from Peacocks three years ago.
Hydration and nutrition
Food and drink isn’t technically hiking gear, but staying hydrated and well-nourished is vital during any hike, especially in the hot summer sun. Also: water filters.
- Water bottles or a hydration reservoir: Carry enough water for the duration of your hike, and pace yourself – don’t drink too much in the first few hours. There may not be anywhere to refill. A hydration reservoir is a handy piece of hiking gear. It allows you to carry the water really close to your back, which will make it feel a little less heavy. Added bonus: hands-free access. And always take a water filtration system, just in case. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but those few extra grams might save your life – or someone else’s. I have various ones, but I usually bring a water bottle with a carbon filter (similar to this one) that I fill up with filtered tap water at home. I keep it clean by never drinking out of it (I empty another water bottle first, the refill it with water from the filter bottle). That way, I can always use it to filter water from streams if need be. I know it sounds like overkill, but I have used it twice – and I would have had to use it again in Tintagel if the café hadn’t been open and the staff happy to refill my regular water bottles. The thing is, when you are hiking along the coast, any streams you come across have probably come a long way, and you have no way of knowing what might have happened to the water further upstream. I also have the Platypus Quickdraw microfilter and reservoir, which can be used in a similar way. I haven’t used it yet, though.
- Electrolytes: You need to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating by bringing electrolyte tablets or drinks. Hiking in the summer is hard work, especially in undulating terrain. In the hot summer sun, which will be reflected by the ocean if you are on a coast path, you’ll sweat even more than you normally do. I like using the SiS or Phizz hydration tablets and I also take a few packs of LMNT, which are full of sodium, magnesium and potassium. The watermelon and raspberry flavours are my favourites, but the chocolate ain’t bad either. I haven’t tried the mango chili yet, but it sounds yummy!
- Food: Pack lightweight and energy-dense snacks such as protein bars, trail mix, and dried fruit to keep your energy levels up. I usually pack Trek bars (I love the cacao oat flavour!) or these scrumptious protein cookies from MyVegan. Nuts or almonds are also great, as they don’t weigh much and are full of calories and healthy fats that will keep you going. Pack a little more than you will need, in case the hike ends up taking a few hours longer than you had anticipated. It happens.
Navigation and safety
Various ways to ensure your safety and prevent getting lost.
- Map or guidebook: Carry a physical map or a guidebook specific to the area you are exploring. Never rely on your phone! The battery might die, you might drop your phone over a cliff as you’re photographing a particularly lovely vista, or – more than likely – there will be no signal. At all. Whatsoever. Ordnance Survey makes some great weatherproof maps. And guidebooks and map books are meant to be used, not admired! Rip them apart to keep the weight down, but make absolutely sure that you have brought all the pages you will need. Double-check it. Then check it again. I always bring a pen, too.
- Map pockets: Nah. This is not an essential piece of hiking gear. Save yourself the money and use sandwich bags from Tesco. Reuse them for as long as you can, then recycle them. All major UK supermarkets accept soft plastic recycling these days.
- Compass: Learn how to use a compass to orient yourself and navigate if necessary. A map isn’t much use without a compass unless you have some clear landmarks to go by! I have this compass from Silva. If you need a quick refresher on how to use a map and compass, watch this YouTube video from Ordnance Survey.
- Whistle: Carry a whistle to signal for help in case of an emergency. Get a special emergency whistle, which is particularly loud and shrill to make sure it can be heard from a good distance. Attach it to the outside of your backpack, so it is within easy reach. It is no good at the bottom of your backpack. Mine is attached to one of the shoulder straps on my day pack.
- Self-defence spray: Pepper spray is not legal in the UK, and most sprays that are sold as pepper sprays are not in fact pepper sprays. However, you are allowed to spray a would-be attacker in the face with a special kind of paint that doesn’t wash off for a few days. As I highly doubt any potential attacker is going to want to come close enough to read exactly what it says on your spray can, the main deterrent here is that you could be aiming a can of illegal pepper spray at them. Either way, spray paint – or paint spray, to be more specific – is better than nothing. Aiming it at the attacker’s eyes will disorient them and temporarily blind them, and give you valuable extra seconds to run to safety. I have this one from Safehaus, but I cannot vouch for its efficacy as thankfully I have never had to use it. Remember: Most people – by far – are genuinely lovely. But sadly not all people.
- Social media: There are people out there who stalk hiking forums and Facebook groups in order to target female solo hikers. I don’t mean to scare anyone, but unfortunately this is the case. I’d call them the lowest form of pond scum, but that would be an insult to pond scum. Don’t let a few sorry excuses for human beings stop you from exploring and enjoying Mother Nature! Just be very careful with what you post on social media. Never give away your exact position and don’t post a selfie while you are still in that location. Wait until you have moved on somewhere else. Use common sense. Beyond that, I can highly recommend a course in Krav Maga.
- First aid kit: Pack a compact first aid kit with essentials such as plasters, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain killers. I also carry a tick remover, a lighter, antihistamines and hayfever eyedrops, a Compeed stick, aloe vera gel in case of serious sun burn, tampons in case of nose bleeds and other heavy bleeds (I learned that one from Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum in She’s The Man, lol!), and sanitary pads because I am a girl. Come to think of it, they would probably work great as bandages, too. I also carry a Swiss Army knife (medium size), which has a pair of scissors for the bandages etc, but I keep that one a little more handy. Remember, your first aid kit isn’t just for you, it is also for people you may encounter who have fallen ill or sustained injuries.
PRO TIP: Swap the heavy red bag that first aid kits usually come in for a small, clear washbag. It weighs less and makes it a lot quicker and easier to find what you are looking for.
- Mobile phone and power bank: Charge your phone fully before you go, and bring a portable power bank or two, because your phone battery WILL die. At least if you’re anything like me and take circa 250 photos when you really, really restrain yourself. I bring two of these from Anker – I’ve had them for a few years, and they still work fine – unlike other, more expensive ones I could mention. And don’t forget the charging leads! If you’re driving, also remember to bring leads that you can use to charge your phone in the car. Car gear is also important, doubly so if your hiking gear should fail. So keep some food and water and a first aid kit in there, as well. But you already are, right?
PRO TIP: If you’re hiking with someone else, keep one phone in airplane mode if possible. It really helps to conserve battery life. And always close all apps that don’t have to be open. That is pretty much all of them except the camera.
- Glow stick: In case of emergencies. This and your funky-coloured rain coat will make you easier to spot from a helicopter. I pray that you will never, ever need it, but it’s far better to carry a glow stick and not need it, than to not carry it and need it. My glow stick lasts for 12h+.
Not exactly hiking gear essentials, but very handy nonetheless.
- Cash: Not all car parks have joined the 21st century. Bring coins for the metres. I learned the hard way.
- Hand sanitiser: Because public loos. And then no public loos. I love these sprays from Dr. Bronner.
- Hair bands: They weigh nothing, but the thought of forgetting to bring them doesn’t bear thinking about. So I always carry at least two spare hair bands in my day pack.
- Wet wipes and a shit shovel: Ok, not so much a shovel as a trowel. I keep them in separate plastic bags, of course. I spent a bit of money on this, wanting a really lightweight trail trowel. I opted for The Deuce #1, which only weighs 12.7g! This is some serious piece of hiking gear – and I haven’t even used it yet, haha! The wet wipes have come in handy a few times, though. Make sure they are biodegradable! You can find them at all good supermarkets.
- Swimsuit: Because it’s summer and you don’t really want to pull a Poldark (even if you’re in Cornwall hiking past old mines and the water is crystal-clear). Remember to bring a plastic bag to put the wet cossie in once you’re done swimming. Mine is an Adidas. My swimsuit, that is. My plastic bag is from Tesco. 😂
PRO TIP: Use your long-sleeve top as a towel and drape it over your day pack. It will dry quickly if it is sunny. This is one of the many reasons why it’s best to opt for quick-drying materials.
Last, but not least!
- The day pack: I have a Deuter backpack that I got for free in some promo many years ago, and while it is not the best ergononomically speaking (no chest or hip straps), it is great for day hikes because the backpack just isn’t that heavy – and it only gets lighter as the hours go by and you drink your water and eat your food. I have another backpack, the 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 2.0, which is fancier and have all the right straps and are sturdier here and there with reinforced blah blah blah… and it is so overengineered that it weighs a tonne before I’ve put anything in it. So the backpack that is actually intended to be carried for long distances only ever comes to the gym with me, in the car, despite the fact that I absolutely love it. Oh, the irony. In other words: The main thing to consider is your own comfort! Remember to take into consideration what you will be wearing on your hike. If you prefer sleeveless tops, day packs with wide straps that grace the inside of your arms as you move are probably not a good idea for you. Then again, if you tend to overpack to be on the safe side (like yours truly), then you probably need some decent, padded straps to prevent the weight of the backpack from causing the straps to dig into your shoulders. If you’re not going very far, or if you have a courteous hiking partner who carries the heaviest stuff for you, then you can probably make do with thinner, unpadded shoulder straps. I really like my ocean green Fjällräven Kånken for shorter trips, partially for its gorgeous colour, partially for the childhood nostalgia (my little sister used a bubblegum pink one as a book bag when she was in primary school – my mother attached some soft shoulder pads for her in a matching colour, though). However, those thin polyester shoulder straps are agony when I have to carry lots of water or when I’m wearing a sleeveless top. In the end, the only person who knows what works for you, is you.
Like I said, I overpack. Better safe than sorry! Still, as you can see from the photos, my day back isn’t that big, and it doesn’t weight that much. Water is by far the heaviest thing I carry!
When you are heading out on a day hike in the summer, having the right hiking gear is essential for a safe and enjoyable experience. Being prepared allows you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Mother Nature. It also means you are able help others you meet on your way.
So gather your gear, lace up your boots (or trainers!), and get ready to embark on an unforgettable outdoor adventure. Remember your power banks and take lots of pictures!